Sunday, May 29, 2016

We Can Choose

Today is the 99th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's birth.   There are people among us older than that.  Yet he has been dead for more than 50 years. Fifty years of our recent history. The tragedy of the assassination never ends.

 President Obama's speech at Hiroshima on Friday (see below) inevitably reminded me of President Kennedy's American University speech, for the visionary aspect of both.

 Kennedy's speech was met with some outrage, as it directly countered the Cold War orthodoxy of the day. Yet it broke the ice that led within a year to the first nuclear weapons treaty in history.  Without specific political proposals, Obama's speech was met with indifference, though it also countered the apocalyptic, mechanistic orthodoxies of today.

It did not deal with the latest nuclear threats, which are very worrying.  It's not just the pathetic but dangerous braggadocio of North Korea--there's a much more threatening new emphasis on bigger and more powerful nuclear weapons in Putin's Russia, coupled with the conviction among some in eastern Europe that Russia might even use them there.  The obvious weapons testing aspect of Russia's operations in Syria are also worrying.

Obama also did not make the point I believe needs to be made often, as awareness is slipping of what nuclear weapons really are.  They are not just somewhat bigger bombs, as portrayed in recent video games and movies.  But I fear that's what many people consider them.  (As for the indifference and ignorance to nuclear weapons expansions in the news, that's not a new pattern.  I noted it in my San Francisco Chronicle piece on the 40th anniversary of  JFK's American University speech in 2003.)

But what Obama did say comports with JFK's speech in describing the real consequences of nuclear war, though Obama kept it in the context of modern warfare as a whole.

The main point made by JFK was given a contemporary resonance by Obama.  JFK put it this way: "First: Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many of us think it is unreal. But that is dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable - - that mankind is doomed - - that we are gripped by forces we cannot control.

We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade - - therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable - - and we believe they can do it again."

In the intervening decades we learned some necessary humility and appreciation for limits, that in some respects at least humanity can't be as big as it wants.  But the central point Obama expressed for our day, when in particular our savants of psychology etc. are insisting that people are basically computers that must obey their genetic programming, which moreover is as simple as it is inescapable.

 Here is Obama's key statement that I believe is the most important in this speech: "We’re not bound by genetic code to repeat the mistakes of the past. We can learn. We can choose. We can tell our children a different story –- one that describes a common humanity; one that makes war less likely and cruelty less easily accepted."

President Obama does not have the counsel of an elder JFK but he has his speeches and example.  In that sense he lives on in the White House.

It's A Wonderful Story

The other day an 87 year old woman dining at a retirement home choked on a piece of meat.  The 96 year old man next to her at the table promptly administered the Heimlich Maneuver, which dislodged the meat and saved her life.

That 96 year old man also happened to be Dr. Henry Heimlich, who invented the maneuver.  It is named after him.

Though his maneuver has been used many times since he developed it in the 1970s,  this was the first time Dr. Heimlich himself actually used it on a person in distress.

So how did he feel?  "I sort of feel wonderful about it," he said.  And so do we all.

Friday, May 27, 2016


Media coverage of President Obama's visit to Hiroshima was not untypical.  But the historical significance of the first American President to officially visit, and especially the nature of what President Obama said, reveals that coverage as disgraceful.

For days ahead of the visit, the media buzzed about whether President Obama was going to apologize.  No one in Japan or anywhere else had asked for an apology, there was no statement by the Japanese government, no petition signed by thousands of Japanese.  It was all stuff they just made up, with a hefty assist no doubt from Republicans.  The media is increasingly controlled by corporations with political reasons to cover things in a certain way, and in order to compete for the assumed short attention spans and superficiality of their audience, they go to conflict even if they have to make it up.  Both tendencies were on full display in this coverage.

And as is very often the case these days, the blitz of nonsense before the event moved on to something else without paying much attention to the actual event, and especially the speech itself.  By Friday evening in the US, not even NPR was even mentioning the speech in their news headlines, which led with the utterly unsurprising story of yet another protest in yet another city where Donald Trump was appearing.

So do yourselves a favor and devote about 15 minutes of your life this Memorial Day weekend to actually listening to the speech--which is embedded above.

Then you might want to return to contemplate the following thoughts from the speech--or read the speech here.

"The World War that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations. Their civilizations had given the world great cities and magnificent art. Their thinkers had advanced ideas of justice and harmony and truth. And yet, the war grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes; an old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints. In the span of a few years, some 60 million people would die -- men, women, children no different than us, shot, beaten, marched, bombed, jailed, starved, gassed to death.

There are many sites around the world that chronicle this war -- memorials that tell stories of courage and heroism; graves and empty camps that echo of unspeakable depravity. Yet in the image of a mushroom cloud that rose into these skies, we are most starkly reminded of humanity’s core contradiction; how the very spark that marks us as a species -- our thoughts, our imagination, our language, our tool-making, our ability to set ourselves apart from nature and bend it to our will -- those very things also give us the capacity for unmatched destruction.

How often does material advancement or social innovation blind us to this truth. How easily we learn to justify violence in the name of some higher cause."

"The wars of the modern age teach this truth. Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution, as well."

"Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering, but we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again."

"But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear, and pursue a world without them. We may not realize this goal in my lifetime. But persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe."

"We must change our mindset about war itself –- to prevent conflict through diplomacy, and strive to end conflicts after they’ve begun; to see our growing interdependence as a cause for peaceful cooperation and not violent competition; to define our nations not by our capacity to destroy, but by what we build.
President Obama embraces an Hiroshima
atomic bomb survivor

And perhaps above all, we must reimagine our connection to one another as members of one human race. For this, too, is what makes our species unique. We’re not bound by genetic code to repeat the mistakes of the past. We can learn. We can choose. We can tell our children a different story –- one that describes a common humanity; one that makes war less likely and cruelty less easily accepted."

"The irreducible worth of every person, the insistence that every life is precious; the radical and necessary notion that we are part of a single human family -– that is the story that we all must tell. That is why we come to Hiroshima."

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ante of Evil

The ephemeral nature of political news, most of it disgusting anyway, is prime motivation for not spending precious time writing about it.  That impulse clashes with the almost cartoonish importance of the 2016 presidential contest, shaping up to be a battle of good (sort of) against evil so grotesque that it tempts self-parody and caricature.  But there it is.

Everything coming out of Trump's mouth ups the ante of evils.  The latest is his so-called energy policy that is so reactionary even the fossil fuel industry has gone past it (even though it was blatant pandering to a North Dakota coal country audience), but with the likely outcome of destroying the planet we know.  And if efforts to define that evil can clarify the nature of horrors and especially motivate voters, there are plenty of such attempts to delineate Trump and the consequences of his terrorizing potential reign.

Some old hands at this have made new efforts.  Adam Gopnik wrote again in the New Yorker about the dangerous consequences: "One can argue about whether to call him a fascist or an authoritarian populist or a grotesque joke made in a nightmare shared between Philip K. Dick and Tom Wolfe, but under any label Trump is a declared enemy of the liberal constitutional order of the United States—the order that has made it, in fact, the great and plural country that it already is." Etc. at length and with eloquence.

Jonathan Chiat defined the anti-nuanced man further. "Donald Trump is a wildly promiscuous liar. He also has disturbing authoritarian tendencies."  Maybe in Trump they are the same thing: "His contempt for objective truth is the rejection of democratic accountability, an implicit demand that his supporters place undying faith in him. Because the only measure of truth he accepts is what he claims at any given moment, the power his supporters vest in him is unlimited."

So apparently he can get away with, for example, blatantly praising the dictator of North Korea--for being a dictator.

But does he actually have a chance of being elected?  By the demographics, no.  But recent polls show him nearly tied with Hillary or ahead.  Besides the futility of such early polls in terms of election results (especially since, in my view, the debates are going to make a big difference), they are currently skewed by the ongoing Bernie v. Hillary thing.  Some analysts see the difference in the polls being that GOPers have "come home" to their candidate, while Dems haven't yet.

So will they?  Past experience and more nuanced polling suggests most of them will, and that include Dem-leaning independents.  Bernie's major appeal is to the young (some of whom don't normally vote) and Hillary will have at least a couple of allies who can appeal to them: Elizabeth Warren, who even if she is not v.p. is doing the v.p. candidate's job of needling the opponent; and President Obama, who is popular with young Dem voters (64% approval) and almost as popular with Bernie voters (82%) as with Dem voters in general.

And while some remain alarmed at the possible damage the aggressive and acerbic Sanders campaign is wreaking on Hillary (though Hillary is proving again she's fully capable of damaging her own campaign), others believe it's being inflated, and that Sanders has signaled plenty of times that he'll support Hillary vigorously against Trump.

Meanwhile Trump keeps finding new outrageous acts to bait the headlines, like suggesting he'd debate Bernie before the CA primary--for $10 million (to be paid by the network broadcasting it, to charity. Later he said he was joking about debating Bernie at all.) Yet there are also pieces stating that this is Trump's high point and that he's going down fast and hard in the near future (this is one among several which I selected partly for the title: Soon it will suck to be Donald Trump.)

But Trump's quick demise into inconsequential disgrace has been predicted before, including here.  It's hard to believe it won't happen, but everything about Trump and his success is hard to believe.  In fact it's impossible to believe.

But it's happening.  And several commentators--including Charles Blow at the NY Times-- warned that even if defeated, the Trump triumph to this point will have repercussions for years to come.  Or as Blow wrote: "He has given his Republican supporters permission to vocalize their anti-otherness rage, and that will not easily be undone. As a Louisiana boy experiencing a confounding sense of déjà vu, let me assure you: There is no way to un-cook the gumbo."

Monday, May 23, 2016

The End of Empathy?

According to various surveys, Americans spend an average of something like 3 hours a day on their mobile devices.  A survey of women at one college found they spent about ten hours a day on their smartphones.  75% of young people (18-24) in yet another survey said the first thing they do upon waking is check their phones, presumably for text messages or Facebook updates.

All this worries Sherry Turkle, a very prominent and popular analyst of computerish things, for a number of reasons.  One of them is that this involvement in interconnection on a social media level somewhat paradoxically means that young people are losing the ability to empathize.  She cites a study saying that, according to standard psychological tests, there's been a 40% drop in empathy among college students in the past 20 years.

Whether or not this can be quantified, it's not easy to read online comments and discussions and mentally combine empathy and the Internet.  (And no, emojs don't count.)

The reason she suggests also seems paradoxical but to me rings true, at least in part: the absence of solitude.  "It's the capacity for solitude that allows you to reach out to others and see them as separate and independent," she writes.

But apparently we have nothing to worry about, according to another quote I read in the same issue of the New York Review of Books in which I saw Turkle's.  This one is in an essay on the new psychologists, particularly the mechanistically inclined evolutionary psychologists that seem to have taken power within the "profession."  It's an alarming piece for many reasons (such as the dependence of certain psychologists on Defense Dept. money, including those who helped design and run torture programs, and generally their arrogance) but this is a quote illustrating the point of view of a popular psychologist, Steven Pinker, in his popular book The Better Angels of Our Nature.  

While Pinker argues encouragingly that, taking the long view of our society, violence has declined and things are getting better, he takes the currently fashionable view in psychology that this is due mostly to an increasing reliance on rationality rather than feeling.  While empathy may have helped account for social progress in the past, the "ultimate goal should be policies and norms that become second nature and render empathy unnecessary."

I don't argue at all with the idea that society can and should create (or "evolve") norms that become second nature, because that's what they do.  Nor do I argue against applying reason, and increasing individual and societal consciousness, though I'm suspicious of the narrowness of the word "rationality" in these folks' mouths.

I do not however believe that empathy will ever be "unnecessary," as long as we are human beings anyway.  Empathy is near our essence.  It is an act or function of that other essential human quality: imagination.  Imagination is why empathy requires, if not solitude, an independent individual process of thinking and feeling that can happen in conversation or while watching a movie or listening to a talk, or observing others. (Eventually some solitude is probably required to complete it.)

It is even possible, as playwright Arthur Miller does in his autobiography, to correlate empathy with intelligence.  Miller (a Jew) writes about visiting the parents of his first wife (a Catholic) in the early 1930s. He notes that her mother "had intelligence: she was able to identify with people who were not Catholic."  Whereas her father could not.  Miller referred to this simply as "Stupidity, the want of empathetic power..."

It's a different kind of intelligence than these psychologists measure or perhaps even allow.  And it's striking that Miller offers one definition (though not a sole or exhaustive one) of stupidity as the inability to empathize.  It is a kind of intelligence that combines "rationality" (thinking, reason, logic, logical categories and correspondences, etc.) and feeling.  It's the kind we need, especially to meet the challenges of the future, which is already in progress.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Nevada Moment (with Update)

The events surrounding the Nevada state Democratic convention and the fallout from those events have roiled the party and may be a turning point in the relationship of Bernie Sanders and his supporters with the Democratic Party and its 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

The New York Times and Washington Post were among the news organizations reporting on violence and threats of violence by Bernie supporters over the Nevada convention, including harassing phone calls, abusive tweets and emails, and death threats to Democratic officials and, in one case, grandchildren.  All over a failed maneuver to change rules that might have resulted in Sanders gaining a total of two delegates.

The Post included facsimiles of one of the emails, and Senator Sanders first response, which included "Our campaign of course believes in non-violent change and it goes without saying that I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals," but emphasized the party's perceived unfairness to his candidacy, and asserted that "Party leaders in Nevada, for example, claim that the Sanders campaign has a ‘penchant for violence.’ That is nonsense."

In the interim between the events and statement, editorials such as this one in the Sacramento Bee seized on the campaign's failure to immediately condemn the threats.  But the Sanders statement--seen as repeating a pro forma condemnation while defending itself with more vociferous charges against the party--was judged inadequate by national Democratic party leaders, and led to a wider examination of the direction of the Sanders campaign.

Observers and party leaders, somewhat worried about Sanders' attacks on Hillary directly damaging her general election campaign, and the prospect of a more bitter Sanders campaign--evidenced by Nevada--disillusioning Bernie supporters to the point that they wouldn't vote for her, or even vote for Trump, became much more concerned.  Sanders campaign statements did nothing to dissuade them.   The Post concluded: "All of it seems to have come to a head in recent days, as bitterness on both sides has boiled over and prompted new worries that a fractured party could lead to chaos at the national convention and harm Clinton’s chances against Trump in November. Two realities seem to be fueling it all: The nomination is, for all intents and purposes, out of Sanders’s reach yet his supporters are showing no signs of wanting to rally behind Clinton."

Also troubling was the growing impression that Sanders doesn't care if Democrats are divided and the White House is lost.  Folks are starting to remember that Sanders is not himself a Democrat, and may have no real loyalty beyond his own campaign.

This concern speaks to the dangerous aspect of the Sanders campaign: its tone.  In a column debunking the Sanders' campaign's persistent theme of being unfairly treated, Ed Kilgore quotes Josh Marshall, the dean of political bloggers: "For weeks I've thought and written that Sanders Camp Manager Jeff Weaver was the driver of toxicity in this race. But what I've heard in a series of conversations over recent weeks w/highly knowledgable people forced me to conclude that I had that wrong. It may be him too. But the burn it down attitude, the upping the ante, everything we saw in the statement released today by the campaign seems to be coming from Sanders himself. Right from the top."

Is there less here than meets the eye, in the long run?  Maybe.  Rolling Stone contacted a number of people who made abusive calls and emails to Nevada party officials, and found that most of them weren't even there, simply followed events online and vented--and later regretted it.

Both the Nevada officials as well as the Sanders campaign may be adding self-serving spin to their assertions, and headlines suggesting that party unity for the general election campaign is spinning out of reach are obvious click bait.

But what is clearly happening is an erosion of support for Sanders in party leadership and among Democrats who have so far supported him, along with implied and direct statements that the goodwill Sanders has built with officials who are Democrats, including Democratic colleagues in the Senate, has limits that his campaign is butting up against.  If things aren't resolved immediately after the California primary at the latest,  a serious division may result.  Bernie Sanders may be having his moment, but the Nevada moment may well be the turning point in his political future.

Update 5/20: Jonathan Chiat's column today makes these points: The contentions of Bernie supporters that they were somehow cheated in Nevada are (according to neutral observers) entirely wrong.  Without even considering the likely effects of a GOP assault on Bernie, his lead over Hillary vs. Trump in some recent polls is illusory.  While he acknowledges that Sanders may have reasons for staying in the race, "given the overall stakes of his behavior, his decision is also maddeningly narcissistic... it is at least possible that Sanders is getting carried away in a messianic fervor that he will not walk away from readily. A recent New York Times story described numerous Sanders staffers as “disheartened” by the campaigns “near-obsession with perceived conspiracies on the part of Mrs. Clinton’s allies.”  In other words, an ego trip.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Trump Fix

In this world of endless cravings for another instant online rush, Trump rules.  There's something Trumpian that's outrageous or weird in the news several times a day to feed the need, so everybody looks for their Trump fix.

But the fact that he's not just a reality TV and Twitter star but the candidate of a major political party for the office of President of the United States is something quite different, and has inspired some new diatribes that try to focus a little attention on the potential trouble we're in because of this.

Adam Gopnik at the New Yorker pulled no punches: Trump is a fascist:

"But his personality and his program belong exclusively to the same dark strain of modern politics: an incoherent program of national revenge led by a strongman; a contempt for parliamentary government and procedures; an insistence that the existing, democratically elected government, whether Léon Blum’s or Barack Obama’s, is in league with evil outsiders and has been secretly trying to undermine the nation; a hysterical militarism designed to no particular end than the sheer spectacle of strength; an equally hysterical sense of beleaguerment and victimization; and a supposed suspicion of big capitalism entirely reconciled to the worship of wealth and “success.” It is always alike, and always leads inexorably to the same place: failure, met not by self-correction but by an inflation of the original program of grievances, and so then on to catastrophe. The idea that it can be bounded in by honest conservatives in a Cabinet or restrained by normal constitutional limits is, to put it mildly, unsupported by history.

Hitler’s enablers in 1933—yes, we should go there, instantly and often, not to blacken our political opponents but as a reminder that evil happens insidiously, and most often with people on the same side telling each other, Well, he’s not so bad, not as bad as they are. We can control him. (Or, on the opposite side, I’d rather have a radical who will make the establishment miserable than a moderate who will make people think it can all be worked out.)"

Jonathan Chiat at New York a few days ago looked at the question of how Trump triumphed when the chattering classes were sure he couldn't.  He's not very polite in his conclusion: "Here’s the factor I think everybody missed: The Republican Party turns out to be filled with idiots. Far more of them than anybody expected....While it's impolite and politically counterproductive, if we want to accurately identify the analytic error that caused so many of us to dismiss Trump, we must return to the idiocy question. The particular idiocy involves both the party’s elites and its voters."

Chiat's description of Trump seems designed to blow away the media fog of bewildered 'objectivity' and conventional acceptance: Trump did not even seem to be an especially effective demagogue. He is not eloquent, not even in a homespun way. He stumbles on his phrases, repeats himself over and over, and his speeches consist of bragging and recitation of polling results so dull and digressive his audience often heads for the exits well before the conclusion...

Unlike Bachmann or Cain [previous GOP 'joke candidates'], Trump had an even weaker grasp on intro-level Republican dogma, instead ranting like a drunk on a bar stool (“Bomb the shit out of ISIS!”). In debates, rather than use the standard tactic of mouthing pabulum that sounded vaguely like a substantive response before pivoting to his preferred message, he dispensed with the pabulum altogether, relying instead on vague, repetitive bragging and grade-school-level personal insults of his opponents. He puts down his opponents’ beauty or their height, or simply smirks at them. His appeal operates not at a low intellectual level but at a sub-intellectual level."

Chiat has since added more fuel to Gopnik's points, though he prefers "authoritarian" to "fascist" terminology. Chiat's critique quoted above got criticized for not focusing on racism in Trump's supporters, and Chiat defended this by noting how many times previously he has identified this.  Gopnik writes: "To associate such ideas too mechanically with the rise of some specific economic anxiety is to give the movement and its leader a dignity and sympathy that they do not deserve."

So who is right, Chiat and Gopnik, or Andrew Sullivan?  Of course, they all are.  Sullivan is right that elites have largely ignored the true plight of white working class families, and Trump's appeal is based largely on a dangerous mix of anger unrestrained by intelligent analysis, racism, race-based nationalism, the substitution of vulgar show business for reality, and institutionalized stupidity.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Put Out the Bern

It's time for Bernie Sanders to end his campaign.  Barring assassination by a Trump fanatic or similar catastrophe, Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee of the Democratic Party for President.  Now that Trump is the Republican nominee, it's time for Sanders to stop attacking Clinton and thereby aiding Trump.

Sure, Bernie won the West Virginia primary on Tuesday.  But it's very likely he won it because Trump supporters voted for him.  A third of voters in the West Virgina Dem primary admitted they were going to vote for Trump in November, and most of those said they voted for Bernie.  That's more than enough for his winning margin, in a state that no Dem is going to carry in November.

The Trump voters understand what's going on, even if Bernie's don't.  Clinton is going to be the nominee, and everything that weakens her, strengthens Trump's chances.

Yes, Bernie is focusing on important issues.  But he's still attacking Clinton directly, aggressively and personally.  For all the good he's done in getting these issues aired, and showing how powerful they are with many voters, he's now doing even more damage to the chances of those issues actually being addressed.

I'm sorry to say, it looks to me that Bernie is on an ego trip right now.  All those crowds seem to have gotten to him.  He doesn't have a chance to win the nomination, and he has precious little in the way of a practical program to address the issues he raises.

Hillary is almost nobody's perfect, favorite or wholeheartedly supported candidate.  But she's all that stands between Trump and the nuclear arsenal.  And she's not that bad.  (This is apart from, but related to, my own view, which I think is widely shared.  I supported Barack Obama not only because his positions were closer to mine, but because I believed he'd be a better President than Hillary.  I can't say the same about Bernie.)

But the longer Bernie stays in and the louder he is in the process, the more he encourages fanatics like the few the Guardian found at a rally in Sacramento who said if Hillary is nominated they would vote for Trump.

The argument that a Trump victory would hasten the Bernie revolution is wrong.  I've already written about the lessons of the Nader campaign in 2000, which was partially responsible for George W. Bush.  Bush threw away trillions on a horrible war, attacked civil liberties, institutionalized torture, ruined the country's reputation around the world and sent the economy into the worst downturn since the Great Depression.  He hardly could have been worse.

But no "revolution" resulted.  Instead only through heroic effort over eight years did the Obama administration bring the country back from catastrophe.  While the far right took over Congress and prevented more progress--basically because people who opposed them didn't vote anywhere near their numbers.

Here's the problem with the Bernie revolution.  First, the kind of revolution that's most likely to happen would result in a dictatorship.  Second, there is no deep or wide support for overthrowing capitalism, which is the real revolution, and substituting something better.  Something better than the capitalism of today is probably essential to a better future.  But there's no consensus on this yet.  It's not going to happen in 2016.

Here's another problem with holding out for revolution: a lot of people are going to get hurt, and usually they are those with the least resources and in the weakest position, economically, socially, and in terms of health.  If you don't care about that, count me out.

That's also the problem with political purity--the Bern or Bust.  What could Nader people tell the parents of the young men and women killed and maimed in Iraq?  The people who suffered and even died because trillions of dollars of resources that President Gore might well have directed towards them wound up being squandered by President Bush?  What would they say to their grandchildren who will inherit a hot depleted planet, when some attempt 15 years ago might have made at least some difference?

If Bernie loyalists believe that wounding Hillary so that she loses will actually help Sanders become the Democratic party leader--it won't happen.  If he is blamed for Hillary's loss and whatever catastrophes Trump provides, he'll be lucky to be treated by Democrats in the Senate as well as Republican Senators are currently treating Ted Cruz.

President Obama talked about how real progress happens in his recent graduation address at Howard University.  Some excerpts:

But to bring about structural change, lasting change, awareness is not enough. It requires changes in law, changes in custom. If you care about mass incarceration, let me ask you: How are you pressuring members of Congress to pass the criminal justice reform bill now pending before them? (Applause.) If you care about better policing, do you know who your district attorney is? Do you know who your state’s attorney general is? Do you know the difference? Do you know who appoints the police chief and who writes the police training manual? Find out who they are, what their responsibilities are. Mobilize the community, present them with a plan, work with them to bring about change, hold them accountable if they do not deliver. Passion is vital, but you've got to have a strategy.

And your plan better include voting -- not just some of the time, but all the time...So you got to vote all the time, not just when it’s cool, not just when it's time to elect a President, not just when you’re inspired. It's your duty.

And democracy requires compromise, even when you are 100 percent right. This is hard to explain sometimes. You can be completely right, and you still are going to have to engage folks who disagree with you. If you think that the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but you’re not going to get what you want. And if you don’t get what you want long enough, you will eventually think the whole system is rigged. And that will lead to more cynicism, and less participation, and a downward spiral of more injustice and more anger and more despair. And that's never been the source of our progress. That's how we cheat ourselves of progress."

Sure, protest is part of the process, and there are special cases when there's no compromise (like ending a war.)  But progress is mostly incremental. And it's about more than emotion, or projection.

Come down from your ego trip, Bernie.  Stop helping to elect Trump.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Your Moment of Swing: It Don't Mean A Thing If...

This is a 7 minute audio version of the classic "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing," sung by Ella Fitzgerald with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.  Ellington apparently wrote the tune more than a decade before he introduced and recorded it in 1932.  It was the first time the term "swing" made it into a major song title, and its success probably helped inaugurate--or at least name-- the Swing Era that began in the late 30s.

It was usually sung by a member of the Ellington band and it's not clear when Ella Fitzgerald first sang it, but she didn't recorded it until 1957.  When Tony Bennett asked Louis Armstrong who was the greatest jazz singer he ever heard, Armstrong replied, "You mean, after Ella?"  Ella Fitzgerald's career spanned the decades from her first hit "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" in 1938 (which still is a swinging knockout) until 1993, three years before she died at the age of 79.  She was a powerful, inventive singer from first to last, and just as fun to listen to now as ever.

This particular recording is from a live show, and though it has the heat, rhythm and skill of the heart of the Swing Era, it is actually from 1967.  In some of her famous scat singing on this recording, you can even hear Ella name-check "A Hard Day's Night."

Friday, May 06, 2016

The O Factor

The Trump has sounded, and with the sound of battle Republicans are scurrying in all kinds of different directions.  Probably the most significant recalcitrance comes from Speaker Paul Ryan, who said he isn't ready to endorse Trump.  Among others, I took this as an opening gambit, but a New York Times article argues that it isn't--that Ryan is (this time) unlikely to change his mind.

Theories abound on what might happen in November, with the conventional wisdom clustering around a crushing Trump defeat.  But conventional wisdom has been severely undermined by Trump's triumphs so far--without the conventional apparatus of the professional campaign cadres of pollsters, message-massagers etc.

The fears for November cluster around Hillary's weakness as a candidate (perhaps to be further tested by the ongoing investigation into her email account) and by Bernie's persistence leading to a lack of unity and especially a depressed turnout.

But there is one factor not so far added to the mix: the O Factor.  Today President Obama spoke from the press conference podium at the White House, calmly setting the stakes:

"But most importantly -- and I speak to all of you in this room as reporters, as well as the American public -- I just want to emphasize the degree to which we are in serious times and this is a really serious job. This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show. This is a contest for the presidency of the United States.

And what that means is that every candidate, every nominee needs to be subject to exacting standards and genuine scrutiny. It means that you got to make sure that their budgets add up. It means that if they say they got an answer to a problem that it is actually plausible and that they have details for how it would work. And if it's completely implausible and would not work, that needs to be reported on. The American people need to know that. If they take a position on international issues that could threaten war, or has the potential of upending our critical relationships with other countries, or would potentially break the financial system, that needs to be reported on."

The NY Times story on this added: "The comments were a preview of what aides say will be a vigorous presence by Mr. Obama in the general election campaign."

This only makes sense.  President Obama's favorables are high and likely to go higher.  He won the presidency twice.  He speaks with the authority of the office over the past eight years.  Hillary Clinton has already made continuing the Obama policies a mainstay of her campaign.

While Bill Clinton is a great speaker and campaigner, he also manages to get unfavorable headlines with uncomfortable regularity.  President Obama is a steady, calming force, who adds gravitas at the same time as he brings a disarming sense of humor to the campaign dialogue.  And as his past campaigns proved, he is a very good campaigner on the stump.

President Obama is likely to be Hillary's greatest asset, giving her a greater advantage in all the states that he won twice.  Which, by the way, is enough to make her President.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

It Can Happen Here

Update Tues. night: Trump trumpled, Cruz, crushed, abandoned ship.  Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party for President.

As Jonathan Chiat noted (in his column "Trump Has Won and the Republican Party is Broken") Earlier in the day Trump had accused Cruz's father of "having conspired to kill President Kennedy."  This is the guy whose father is pretty much documented as having been a sympathizer, if not member, of the Klan.  But according to the Guardian, Cruz had referred to Trump's "battles with venereal disease."

Chiat writes: "Most of America, including a significant minority of Republicans, have seen Trump’s candidacy exactly for the con it is. Trump for President is a category error. He is, as his rivals have described him, a charlatan, a con artist, a congenital liar, a man self-evidently unfit for office at any level, and especially the presidency. As George Will has argued, his unfitness is so manifest that it applies to anybody who considers him suitable for the office; a person is “unqualified for high office because he or she will think Trump is qualified.”

Yet, as if to support Andrew Sullivan's thesis below, Trump has been winning by larger and larger margins, virtually destroying his opponents, and had a growing lead of 30 polling points in California (where the GOP is quite small these days.)  Some of this is very probably a response to Cruz in the negative, big time.  But clearly the con is working with larger numbers of GOP primary voters.  Meanwhile, Bernie's win in Indiana--which doesn't mean much in his chances for more delegates--is preventing the Democratic unity necessary to face  Trump, who is now free to turn his entire attention on Hillary.

TUES. A.M.: It doesn't stop.  The (Republican) former Speaker of the House called Ted Cruz  "Lucifer in the flesh," and satanists who were interviewed renounced him.  His wife, Heidi Cruz, found herself denying that he was the Zodiac Killer--apparently one of those Internet conspiracies given prominence by Comedy Central's Larry Wilmore in his monologue at the White House Correspondents Dinner. (Some loved his jokes, some hated them; I thought they were poorly delivered--he seemed a bit overwhelmed-- and consequently just not very funny.)

Meanwhile, a few days after Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said that a Trump presidency would lead "to another 9-11, Donald Trump claimed to CNN that he has more foreign policy experience than anyone, certainly than a former Secretary of State and First Lady. And he made millions in the process (no joke, that's what he said.)

 But the question was in response to a joke at the Correspondents Dinner, this time by President Obama ("They say Donald lacks the foreign policy experience to be President. But, in fairness, he has spent years meeting with leaders from around the world: Miss Sweden, Miss Argentina, Miss Azerbaijan.")

But for those who relished the prospect of being entertained by the Trump shock jock campaign before they settle down to a boring Hillary presidency--maybe not so fast.  The voices have been few but notable--Thomas Franks, then the guy who writes the Dilbert cartoons, and now, at greater length and with elegant arguments, Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine.

Sullivan couches his warning about the power of Trump within a Platonic warning about democracies at their height quickly turning to dictatorships.  He cherrypicks enough characteristics familiar to us now to get your attention.  He continues with an analysis of the erosion of institutional protections against going off the deep end in any directed that the Founders established, and the end of that process (so far) is Trump.

The new media environment unleashes emotion far more than reason, he writes.  And notes the historical pattern of mass movements arises not when things are at their worst but when things are starting to recover (he name-checks Eric Hoffer on this, but it's a known psychological as well as historical phenomenon.)

Sullivan stings every ideology, party, class, point of view and special interest group at least a little (including gay Americans, which Sullivan can get away with, as an outspoken gay man on gender equality and other relevant issues.)  But he is most eloquent interpreting the point of view of the white working class for the elites who read him.  The white working class has been hurt by technology and globalization, then again by the Great Recession and things haven't gotten better except for the elites in charge.

"This is an age in which a woman might succeed a black man as president, but also one in which a member of the white working class has declining options to make a decent living. This is a time when gay people can be married in 50 states, even as working-class families are hanging by a thread. It’s a period in which we have become far more aware of the historic injustices that still haunt African-Americans and yet we treat the desperate plight of today’s white working ­class as an afterthought. And so late-stage capitalism is creating a righteous, revolutionary anger that late-stage democracy has precious little ability to moderate or constrain — and has actually helped exacerbate."

Revolutionaries of the 60s haplessly but sincerely tried to make common cause with the working class, even when some of its members were beating them up at antiwar demonstrations.  But today's left, Sullivan writes, has only contempt for them, politically and culturally, considering them racists and sexists:

"A struggling white man in the heartland is now told to “check his privilege” by students at Ivy League colleges. Even if you agree that the privilege exists, it’s hard not to empathize with the object of this disdain. These working-class communities, already alienated, hear — how can they not? — the glib and easy dismissals of “white straight men” as the ultimate source of all our woes. They smell the condescension and the broad generalizations about them — all of which would be repellent if directed at racial minorities — and see themselves, in Hoffer’s words, “disinherited and injured by an unjust order of things.”"

Of course racism in particular is endemic to Trump's appeal, but self-satisfied ignorance by elites is pretty good cover.  Sullivan sees that the realities cannot be glibly dismissed, even as he highlights the great danger of these emotions being shaped by the likes of Trump."... the most powerful engine for such a always the evocation of hatred."

Sullivan illustrates the Trump appeals to hatred and violence.  He notes as well the weakness of Hillary's candidacy--that despite Trump's terrible numbers for a general election, her popularity is lower at this point than recent Democratic candidates like Gore and Kerry, who did not become President.

Sullivan ends by addressing the elites who are most likely to be reading his words, to take control, to deny Trump the nomination.  I doubt that's the best prescription for what he sees ailing us, and anyway, after Trump's expected triumph in Indiana later today, it's not going to happen.

What is going to happen, however, will likely be a terrible test.  Without even considering institutional history and philosophies of government, at this time and place we're facing a crisis in the guise of a circus.

Sullivan notes the Sinclair Lewis novel, It Can't Happen Here, and resemblances of the fascist who becomes President in the Great Depression in that fiction, to Trump's basic message.  That story (as in the play version that was one of the Federal Theatre Project's great triumphs, which we commemorated a few years ago with a reading of the play at the Dell'Arte Theatre) is a template for a lot of what we've being seeing from the rabid right and the Republican party for awhile now.  And one feature of it is especially relevant to this campaign: violence on behalf of the candidate.

This is looking like it will be a violent campaign--violent words from candidate Trump and from partisans of both sides, and violence against persons. Just this week Trump supporters in Indiana and West Virginia, and anti-Trump protestors in California are harbingers.  I'm not trying to equate them, but a lot of people will.  Combined with the real threat of Bernie or Bust supporters to divide Democrats and suppress the vote, the danger is too many voters not voting in November.

For that's probably all that has to happen to avoid self-destruction this time, maybe long enough and in a way to throw a different light on all these changes.  And maybe soon enough to deal with the real crises, especially the climate crisis, that threatens not just this democracy, or this society, but human civilization and life as we know it on this planet.

After all the noise and the mud, and perhaps even the blood, people who know better do what is necessary to vote, and vote.  Battling fear, cynicism and despair, vote.  This is the means that's necessary.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Your Moment of Swing: In the Mood

A final Glenn Miller tune, possibly his most lasting: "In the Mood."  This is from the movie Sun Valley Serenade,  so that's actor John Payne at the piano, and lots of shots of co-star Sonia Henie in the audience.  But the rest is the Miller Orchestra of 1941.

Next to maybe Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller is the giant of Swing music, and probably even more of a representative of the Swing era.  I think a lot of the reason is that Glenn Miller crafted songs.  Most of the songs still remembered from the late 30s and early 40s--those with lyrics and especially those without--were introduced or made famous by the Glenn Miller band.

"In the Mood" is one of the classics, an almost perfect pop song as well as buoyant hit of Swing.  It was probably based on a blues riff that made its way into several songs.  In 1935, Joe Garland made his big band arrangement, calling it "There's Rhythm in Harlem."  When Swing took over he gave it to Artie Shaw under the title "In the Mood."  Shaw's band played this version but never recorded it.

It was left to Glenn Miller to edit it, taking out secondary themes and emphasizing the propulsive, happy sounding riff.  He made it a song.  It became one of his signature tunes, and has only increased in popularity.  Musicians from Louis Armstrong to Chuck Berry admired it (Berry claimed that he based the famous guitar riff that starts "Johnny Be Good" on the opening of "In the Mood.")

There are so many versions of "In the Mood" around, including those made by various versions of the Glenn Miller Orchestra that has played for decades after Glenn Miller's death.  One of these later versions is matched to this movie footage on a different YouTube video. (There have to be fifty different versions of this song on YouTube.)

But this is the version recorded for this movie, and it has some tasty differences from the official version that the Miller Orchestra recorded in 1939. The movie also shows the song played in its natural habitat, facing dancers on the dance floor.  This had to be an ecstatic experience to hear and dance to live.

Swing was my mother's music, her rock & roll.  Glenn Miller's was her favorite band, and she was a good dancer.  When the Glenn Miller Orchestra got off the train at the Greensburg station and played at the Coliseum ballroom, she was there.  I love to think of this song making her happy.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Welcome to the Reality Show Campaign

It's going to be Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton in America's first Reality Show presidential campaign.  Unless of course something totally weird happens, Reality Show-style.

Among the Democrats, Hillary spent a great deal of her victory speech on Tuesday addressing the concerns of--and therefore addressing--Bernie Sanders voters. Bernie's speech was viewed as a valedictory to his campaign, and on Wednesday he sent the campaign workers he didn't fire to California to make some big noise there, in preparation for making a big noise for the national convention platform committee.

So the Democrats are dull, though Naderite Susan Surandon and former hubbie Tim Robbins are doing their show biz best.  Trump is going to try to make Hillary a Reality Show-worthy opponent, but that might be beyond even his tawdry skills.

But for the moment at least, there's still Ted Cruz to rival Trump in the Reality Show buzz of the moment.  While Trump's assertion Tuesday night that Hillary is a viable candidate only because she's a woman had even Mrs. Chris Christie's eyes rolling, and Trump managed to insult Christie standing behind him again (asserting that John Kasich has gotten almost no votes--why even Chris got more!)--on Wednesday there was Tail Gunner Ted introducing Carly Fiorina as his selection for vice-president.

So this was the most despised presidential candidate of 2016 (which is saying something) even among fellow Republicans, introducing a vp candidate who is so universally loathed that New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz only had to play it completely straight to ridicule the choice in his column Cruz Hopes To Tap Into Immense Popularity of Carly Fiorina.

Maybe that was more Moliere than Reality TV but Carly soon returned it to its proper sphere when from the podium at this announcement she suddenly sang a nursery rhyme to Cruz's daughters.

As USA Today showed, several reporters incredulously tweeted "What is happening?" while the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza gave the true political reality show junkie response in his tweet: I LOVE THIS CAMPAIGN. I LOVE THIS CAMPAIGN. I LOVE THIS CAMPAIGN. I LOVE THIS CAMPAIGN. I LOVE THIS CAMPAIGN. I LOVE THIS CAMPAIGN.

Yeah, well I've never watched more than a few minutes of a reality show, so...wake me when this one is over.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Quintrumpled and other Political Notes

Trump has triumphed in all five northeastern primaries, and is currently winning above 60% of the vote in every one.  Update: Though his percentage is dwindling, he's still likely to be above 50% in all, and well above 50% in several, making the Cruz-Kasich pretend alliance meaningless, except as a way to gin up his margins. He's also above 50% for the first time in the NBC national poll announced today.

Nate Cohn at the NYTimes: It is safe to say that Trump is outperforming any benchmark based on his past performances, like our demographic model. Extremely strong showing.
As of now, Hillary has been declared the winner in Maryland, Delaware and  Pennsylvania--the biggie-- but in a tight race in Connecticut and losing to Bernie in Rhode Island.  She'd really like to have Conn., I'll bet.  Clinton is hovering around 60% as well in the three states she's won so far. Looks like the moment for her victory speech.  Bernie, as usual, made his non-concession speech early enough to get airtime, but in terms of the results, maybe too early. Update: Rhode Island called for Bernie. NYTimes reports likely Clintonian areas of Conn. haven't yet been counted.  Update 2: Clinton takes Connecticut.

Political Note:Trumpled Here First

From the Nation early Tuesday:

Republican Donald Trump, on the eve of primary elections in five states that he is expected to sweep, launched blistering attacks on Monday on rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich for their 11th-hour joint effort aimed at denying him the party's presidential nomination.

From eminent (i.e.paid) political writer Chris Cillizza  in the Washington Post:

If Donald Trump could have engineered a scenario that would fire up his anti-establishment base any more than it already is, the public announcement of a Cruz-Kasich alliance would be how he would have done it.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Political Note: Trumpled

Tailgunner Ted Cruz and John Kasich, two of the three remaining aspirants to the GOPer presidential nomination, announced through their campaigns that they are cooperating on a strategy to stop Donald Trump from going to the convention with enough delegates to win on the first ballot.

Unless I miss my guess on what Trump will now do, I'm pretty sure this move all but guarantees Trump the nomination.

I expect Trump to meet this with righteous fulmination, resulting in big wins on Tuesday and either humiliating victories in the states where these two choose to go one-on-one with Trump or enough sustained noise to scare GOPer delegates into putting Trump over on the first ballot if he's anywhere close to a majority.

If these guys had tried to make Trump's angry hordes angrier, they couldn't have done better than this strategy, which plays directly into the perception of cynical party politics thwarting the public will.

The only way this could possibly work is that by each training their campaign ads and speeches on Trump's deficiencies instead of each other's, they cut into Trump's support and expose a serious vulnerability.

But right now it just looks like a response to Trump's overwhelming victory in New York and his likely victories in the northeastern primaries this week.  Ordinary voters expect candidates to either be in the race or out of it, not playing in some states and not in others. Without much in the way of a public rationale or public outcry, this looks as cynical and political as it gets.

Moreover, Trump realized that the more and louder he talked about issues not on his primary agenda, the more trouble he was getting into.  He's all but disappeared for the last few weeks.  Now he's got something new and pretty safe to shout about. Cruz and Kasich are about to be Trumpled.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Coincidental Genius

Four hundred years ago today, the deaths of two literary giants were recorded: William Shakespeare and Cervantes.  Though there's dispute over the actual day they died, officially it is the same day for both: April 23, 1616.

The two men apparently did not meet (Shakespeare never left England,  and after his soldiering days Cervantes stayed in Spain) and probably did not know about each other's work.  Still the coincidence of this day is the occasion for a symposium at the Newberry research library in Chicago (and elsewhere), a which-said-what quotes quiz (it's predictably tricky) and an article on the subject in the Guardian, which points out that April 23 is also the death date given for William Wordsworth, Rupert Brooke and some lesser known poets.

Also a comparison of the lives and work of Shakespeare and Cervantes that notes that a 2002 poll of 100 unnamed international writers named Don Quixote the "most meaningful book of all time."

Oddly, I stumbled on the coincidental death day by sheer coincidence (Kowincidence?)  I've started reading a few pages of J.B. Priestley's Literature and Western Man (published in 1960--when "man" was still an acceptably encompassing synonym for human) before bed, and a week or so ago I got to the page where he noted these deaths on this date of April 23, 1616.  Apparently my math skills were up to realizing this was an anniversary year, though it took a calculator to figure out the exact number of years.

What's fascinating is that these are not just two famous writers--their work is arguably the most famous in the western world and considerably beyond it.  They are the most famous writers, in two areas of literature.  As Priestly wrote, "Perhaps only Shakespeare has captured and delighted more minds than Cervantes."

Shakespeare worked in what became the dominant form of his time and place, plays for the stage.  His work helped make it dominant, and transformed theatre for all time.

The secret of his perennial appeal, Priestly writes, might be not only the range of what he dramatized but his insistence on not being one-sided.  "In his desire to keep a balance, his wrestling with the opposites, even the very kinds of opposites they were, despite his immensely rich nature (and rich is surely his favorite word) and many-sided genius, he comes close to generations of ordinary Western men of intelligence and good will.  It is perhaps the secret of his hold upon our world, century after century...."

"Though he conjures up everything from lyrical young love and gossamer fairylands to darkest witchcraft and bloody murder, he always leads us home...If the day ever comes when Shakespeare is no longer acted, read, and studied, quoted and loved, Western Man will be near his end."

Drama was also the dominant form in Spain, but Cervantes did something else.  He put together some existing forms of tales to create something new.  Don Quixote is generally considered to be the first novel.  As Priestly writes: "...and in the gathering shadows of the age and his own time (in contemporary terms he was an old man), with no patron, no salaried place, few prospects, rich only in experience, memory, knowledge of men, the one-handed old soldier began to write his book.  Then out of that experience, memory, knowledge, and an eruption of genius, he wrote the best novel in the world."

 But literary definitions aside, he certainly defined a huge area for the novels to come. "Through its bustle of roads and inns, its sense of movement, colour and life, he reached far forward to inspire all the novelists who set their characters wandering."  So to Fielding, to Dickens, Melville, Kerouac, Jim Harrison.  "And as the magical ironist of the relativity of reality, of truth at war with illusion, he might be said to have pointed further forward still..."  To Ibsen, Joyce, and pretty much everyone since.

"Of all our great novelists," he concludes, " he is the youngest, because he is the first, and the oldest, because his tale of the mad knight is an old man's tale.  He is also the wisest."

It is worth mentioning that though both writers were famous in their time, by April 1616 the world had seemingly moved on, never to return.  Shakespeare's drama was already going out of style at the end of his career. Though some of his plays were always performed somewhere in the years after his death, his work was not so appreciated again until the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the 19th century. Similarly, the novel did not emerge in a big way until about then, especially in England, and Cervantes' role as a pioneer as well as an exemplary became cherished.

So these two geniuses, together responsible for much of what life and letters are like today, died on pretty much the same day.  Or...did they just return to where they came from on the same spaceship?

Political Notes: Clinton-Warren

After my post on the subject, Ed Kilgore at New York put some actual reporting behind my contention that GOPer pols would love to run against Bernie Sanders, reviving McCarthyism for the 21st century.

About the only thing that has excited me so far during this campaign is the possibility supported by Kilgore that Hillary should select Elizabeth Warren as her running mate.  I agree completely--and I especially feel it would inject some passion into what looks to be a teeth-grinding general election campaign.  The other possibilities being mentioned (Tim Kaine?--give me a break) are uniformly uninspiring.

Despite Clinton's apparent confidence that Sanders supporters will come home to her in the likely event that she wins the nomination (made more likely by her convincing win in New York), she should not ignore especially the age gap, which this LA Times article suggests is starting to supersede race and ethnicity.   Running with Warren--with her rep and her stump style--seems likely to pretty much erase that gap.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Planet and Public Health

Today is Earth Day in America, which seems to have assumed all the significance of Arbor Day.  But on this particular Earth Day, some 175 nations of the Earth are meeting at the UN to formally sign the Paris agreement on confronting the Climate Crisis.

There is optimism that the goals named in the agreement can be reached sooner than promised.  But there's also been news since the Paris negotiations that make addressing the causes of the climate crisis even more urgent.

I've noted several of these, but the Washington Post has a summary (How Earth itself has dramatically upped the stakes for the Paris climate accord,) and John Sutter at CNN a list of what needs to be done (Stop Ruining the Future.)

But in addition to addressing the causes, the climate crisis demands that we prepare to address the effects.  In supporting its position advocating efforts to address the causes, the American College of Physicians listed some of the effects that doctors--and public health systems--are already starting to confront:

Respiratory illnesses, including asthma and COPD. Rising temperatures are causing an increase in ozone pollution, smoke from wildfires, and allergens produced by weeds, grasses and trees. Homes affected by heavy rains or flooding can become host to toxic mold and fungi.

Heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which are particularly dangerous for children and the elderly.

Insect-borne illnesses, like Zika virus, dengue fever and chikungunya, which are ranging farther north as mosquitoes thrive in warmer climates.

Water-borne illnesses, such as cholera, which can spread if drought causes poor sanitation or if heavy flooding causes sewer systems to overflow.

Mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression connected to natural disasters, as well as the anxiety and stress that accompanies days of hot weather."

All of these require a public health response, but after decades of budget cuts and the demonization of public agencies, is the United States public health system up to the challenge?  Shouldn't we be urgently asking that question?

A lack of consensus on public health, a dearth of attention to these climate crisis threats and a general lack of knowledge can add up to a dangerous inability to respond in a public health emergency, spreading panic and discord which rapidly makes a bad situation worse.

For all the potential causes of virtual anarchy on any level, there are really two that can create anarchy quickly: a food availability crisis (which is often a food price crisis) or a public health crisis--the spread of a disease or condition without efforts that are effective and generally believed to be the right ones.

We don't have to go back in history to see some of the problems.  Laurie Garrett's review of Pandemic, a book by Sonia Shaw in the New York Times Book Review last month reveals giant failures among the world's nations to address public health concerns.  She tells of the mistakes made in early efforts to confront Ebola, resulting in thousands of deaths, and particularly the ongoing cholera crisis in Haiti, where it remains because of failure to fix the water and sewage systems.

Shaw's book itself offers a more than cautionary tale about how politics, psychology and ego can be stubbornly fatal in addressing epidemics, in her description of cholera in Europe in the 19th century, when evidence that pathogens in the water caused the disease was dismissed several times because of the belief (supported by politics and ego) that cholera was caused by the smell of human waste, which led to even more contamination of water and even worse outbreaks of the disease.

Public health, like the climate crisis itself, involves many interacting factors that must all be addressed simultaneously.  (Mosquito nets are useless unless there is a system to get them to the people who need them, as is not the case in much of Africa, for example.)  Public health requires cooperation in common efforts, and trust in public institutions.  As we've seen recently here in California, it only takes a small group refusing vaccination and inoculation to spread diseases that otherwise might disappear.

In fact many perennially common diseases from polio to measles began to disappear from American family life in the 1950s through the 1970s, when public trust in public health was high, and funding for public health was unquestioned.  We may face our next set of public health crises with neither of those.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Your Moment of Swing

It's another Glenn Miller hit, this time from his second movie, "Orchestra Wives." The film is more centered on the orchestra itself and to some extent on the real problems of wives on tour with musician husbands, but mostly it's a love story starring Ann Rutherford and George Montgomery, with some current and future dazzlers as the other wives.  As a follow to the previous movie's hit "Chatanooga Cho-Cho," this number-- "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo"--features another town with a musical name, and also a Tex Beneke vocal with a coda that has an even longer Nicholas Brothers dance routine.  You can see where Michael Jackson got a lot of his moves.

You might recognize Caesar Romero and Jackie Gleason as supposed members of the band--Romero gets more lines in the movie, but Gleason looks like he might actually know how to play bass.

But the star of this video is the dynamic blonde in the middle of the singers, Marion Hutton.  Marion's sister Betty had a longer and more successful career in show business, but Marion sang with the Glenn Miller Orchestra from its beginnings in 1938.

She had a bad childhood (abandoned by her father, her mother was a bootlegger) and a sad later adulthood as an alcoholic who devoted her last years to helping fellow addicts. But when she was 17, Glenn Miller and his wife became her legal guardians and she began singing with the Orchestra.  This film was made in 1942, the last year of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, which disbanded when Miller joined the Army Air Force and was later lost flying over the English channel.

Marion sang and appeared in a few more movies in the 40s but this number was pretty much her highlight.  She's 21 and full of energy, sparkle and wit.  The joy of the music and the moment is present in her every expression and gesture.  Not many of us get such a high moment of our lives captured so well for others, but Marion did, and here it is.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

An Afternoon with Steph and Barack